Evaluating the Big Ten West reveals the division could be as wide open as it has ever been. A number of teams in the division can make a case for why they should be the ones winning the division and playing for a Big Ten championship at the end of the year. For Iowa, a stable roster is in their favor, but the schedule is not very kind between road games and crossover division games.
Iowa has the unfortunate draw of having to play three of its biggest Big Ten West games on the road (Northwestern, Wisconsin, Nebraska). The crossover rotation with the Big Ten East includes a home game against Penn State, who has had Iowa's number lately, and a road game at Michigan, a trendy preseason Big Ten favorite and College Football Playoff contender. But what games are the toughest on the schedule? Which should be the easiest?
Here is a look at Iowa's schedule, ranking opponents from what should be the easiest games to the most challenging. It's safe to say if Iowa is playing for the Big Ten championship at the end of the year, the Hawkeyes will certainly have earned it.
12. Aug. 31 vs. Miami (Ohio)
Iowa opens the season at home against Miami (Ohio) from the MAC. The RedHawks have never defeated the Hawkeyes in four tries since 2001 and went home with a 45-21 loss in 2016. Iowa should easily be 1-0.
11. Nov. 23 vs. Illinois
Iowa has absolutely dominated this series with the Illini in recent years, including a 63-0 victory last season on the road. Iowa has won five straight and 10 of the last 11. Get ready to make that 11 of the last 12.
10. Sept. 7 vs. Rutgers
Iowa jumps into Big Ten play in Week 2 with a home game against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are in massive need of improvement and have tended to struggle much more on the road. This may not be pretty, but it should be a comfortable win for Iowa.
9. Sept. 28 vs. Middle Tennessee
The Blue Raiders have turned in seven consecutive non-losing seasons but are just 3-12 against power conference opponents in that span, with no win coming against a Big Ten team. This could be a little too close for comfort for Iowa.
8. Nov. 16 vs. Minnesota
Because every game in the Big Ten West could potentially be up for grabs, the home-field advantage could be a factor. Minnesota's last win at Iowa was in 1999.
7. Oct. 19 vs. Purdue
The Boilermakers have taken two straight against Iowa, including last season's 38-36 upset of the No. 19 Hawkeyes. Iowa hopes to avoid losing a third consecutive game to Purdue for the first time since dropping 20 straight from 1961-80.
6. Sept. 14 at Iowa State
The annual rivalry game against Iowa State has been a difficult one to forecast, but expect a tight contest. It could be a defensive slugfest or it could become a scoring bonanza. Either way, this should go down to the wire as Iowa goes for a fifth straight win against the Cyclones from the Big 12.
5. Oct. 26 at Northwestern
The Wildcats have won three straight against Iowa, each win coming by a single-score margin of victory. Iowa has scored 10 points in each of the last two meetings. Iowa hasn't lost four straight games to Northwestern since a span from 1926-32.
4. Oct. 12 vs. Penn State
Iowa will break out their all-gold uniform for the first time when the Nittany Lions pay a visit. The last time Penn State was in town, the Nittany Lions won a thriller on the final play of the game.
3. Nov. 29 at Nebraska
Iowa has won five of the last six meetings with their new season-finale rivals from Nebraska. Last year's contest was a good one and we could be in for another nail-biter this year if Nebraska continues to improve and trend upward.
2. Nov. 9 at Wisconsin
Both Iowa and Wisconsin will be coming off a bye week as they prepare to face each other in Madison in early November. This game could ultimately determine who comes out on top of the Big Ten West. For Iowa, Wisconsin has been the kryptonite the last three seasons with two double-digit victories in a three-game winning streak.
1. Oct. 5 at Michigan
The toughest road game of the year for Iowa will be played in early October when they visit the Big House in Ann Arbor. If Michigan's offense has evolved as expected this season, the Wolverines will be tough to beat for anyone they face this season. Iowa has won two of the three most recent meetings with Michigan, in 2016 and '13, and has won five of the last six going back to '09. But is that a trend that will continue after a couple of years in between the most recent game in the series?
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.